Public Procurement: Delayed Reform, Deteriorating Accountability and Integrity
Zukiswa Kota (Rhodes University)

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and UN Office on Drugs and Crime, cite public procurement as a government’s single greatest corruption risk. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed deep fractures and inequalities in South Africa’s social, economic and political environments. Amongst these are fragmented, deficient and captured public procurement systems. These pose a fundamental threat to public finances at all levels of government. COVID-19 contract corruption has also deepened unequal access to basic and emergency services and placed additional pressure on public financial management (PFM) systems. Opportunities not only for rampant corruption but for the closing of civic space and curtailment of oversight in the name of urgency have proliferated. In 2020, the National Treasury released a Procurement Bill, to regulate public procurement and prescribe a revised framework for procurement policy per section 217(3) of the Constitution. While this constitutes a milestone in efforts to safeguard public resources; opaque and delayed processes pose barriers to potentially meaningful reform. This extraordinary moment in time offers an opportunity to interrogate the state of the state as well as to inform a reform agenda that prioritises inclusion, fairness and equity. Are the fractures fixable?